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An Impact That Endures

Providing refuge, love, and hope for homeless children in Rutherford County

Imagine growing up inside a 200 sq. ft. room but not being able to play outside because the environment was unsafe. This is the reality facing many children around Rutherford County. In fact, there are currently over 1200 kids living in non-traditional housing, including motels, campgrounds, cars, and/or doubled-up with another family. 

This unsettling reality faced Joel Bigelow each week. He noticed a local non-profit organization serving a meal every Friday night at the motel located just outside the entrance to his job at the manufacturing plant. There were hundreds in line, including an abundance of children. Knowing the area was a hot spot for sexual predators and drug activity, Joel and his wife, Jeannie Bigelow, knew they had to do something to help. 

Athletics has always been a big part of Bigelow’s life. He played football in high school and, as an adult, competed in ultramarathons and Iron Man events. He wanted to provide an opportunity for these children to safely enjoy time outside and experience the benefits that sports can offer. In 2015, Endure Athletics started with a Saturday morning program and a handful of kids from the motel. This regular weekly event gave kids a chance to receive a homemade hot breakfast, have fun, laugh, and enjoy being a kid in a safe space. The original goal was to simply be a place of refuge, love, and hope. That mission is still true today.

Bigelow had no idea how quickly Endure Athletics would grow. Sports provide a great opportunity for kids to build trust and open up about their struggles at school and with their families. For example, summer is a particular challenge for these kids. When class isn’t in session, they are mostly limited to their motel room, and nutritious meals aren’t always available. Thus, a nine-week summer camp program was created to meet these essential needs. 

Summer Camp provides homeless children something to do daily, such as enrichment activities or events they might not otherwise have a chance to experience. This includes hiking, swimming, kayaking, water parks, zoo, and more. Bigelow recalls their first ice skating excursion, where several kids were apprehensive. This allowed them to try something new and overcome their fears together. Everyone had a great time, and it was a good bonding experience too. 

Endure Athletics has now added age-specific, after-school programs for both elementary and middle school. Children receive transportation to and from the program, a hot meal, homework help, structured and unstructured physical activity time, and character-building and growth mindset lessons. The program is more individually-focused at the high school level, with mentorship, academic support, and financial assistance for extra-curricular activities.  

The reach over the last eight years has been quite impactful as they help kids break the cycle of generational poverty. The very first student who participated in their program is now 22 years old and finishing his last semester at Middle Tennessee State University. Lamarrious is a first-generation college student, and thanks to some help from The Endure Athletics Foundation, he will graduate 100% debt free. He says, “I was surrounded by people who wanted to see me succeed.”

Endure consistently serves 60+ children every week with the help of part-time staff and volunteers. All meals, programs and activities – even summer camp – are provided at no cost, thanks to community donors and partnerships. On average, it takes $49 per week to support a child in this program, but the lasting influence is priceless. A mom of four shares, “You are making an impact on them and are a positive male role model. Thank you for everything.”

This organization currently has an office at Nourish Food Bank, and they partner with local churches for events and activity space. Bigelow says they have grown to the point where they need a place of their own. The land has been purchased, and they are hoping to begin work on a new facility. Endure plans to be a permanent support system for homeless children in Rutherford County as they continue to bring light to some of the more challenging areas of the community. Learn more about the Champions Club at

 “Being forced to stay inside made me lazy and antisocial. Endure’s summer program gave me something to look forward to every day and introduced me to other children.” – Lamarrious, Endure Participant and Intern